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Vegetarianism: Introduction, Positive and Negative Sides

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Table of contents

  1. What is vegetarianism? (essay)
  2. Benefits and drawbacks of Vegetarian diets
  3. Conclusion

What is vegetarianism? (essay)

To discuss vegetarianism, this essay first provides an introduction to the topic.

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To begin, vegetarianism is the limitation of one’s diet to only plants, vegetables, grains, and fruits, without eating any food derived from an animal. There are different extremes of vegetarianism, where you can eat dairy, but not eggs, only milk, etc. And the reasons why people convert to this diet differ. Health, religion, compassion for the animals, it usually varies. Vegetarianism has been around for centuries, beginning with the peaceful Hindu and Buddhist religions, but recently we have seen the eruption of a more militant vegetarianism that is inspired by the “animal rights” movement. Today, vegetarian activists are throwing pies at Ronald McDonald and the Pork Queen, scrawling, “meat is murder” in prominent locations, committing terrorist acts of arson, and waging media campaigns equating meat consumption with cannibalism. Vegetarianism is becoming a soapbox more than a healthier diet.

Benefits and drawbacks of Vegetarian diets

The guidelines from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services advise 2 to 3 daily servings of milk, which vegetarians do not drink, and the same amounts of foods such as eggs, meat, poultry and fish. They recommend 3 to 5 servings of vegetables, 2 to 4 of fruits, and 6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. In other words, 11 to 20 plant foods, but only 4 to 6 animal foods. Vegetarians are, on the average, far healthier than those who eat the typical Western diet, and enjoy a lower incidence of many chronic diseases. Vegetarians are consuming less cholesterol and fat than carnivorous eaters. Vegetarian diets offer disease protection benefits because of their lower saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein content. However it has not been proven that one must eliminate meat from one’s diet in order to be healthy. It has been aptly demonstrated that the typical Western diet contains too much fat. Eliminating meat from the diet is one way to reduce fat, but it is not the only way. Eating meat responsibly and adding more carbohydrates to your diet can also reduce fat. Vegetarian diets have also been known to cure and/or prevent diseases. For example, Soya beans contain high concentrations of substances now known to be cancer-preventers, and several studies show that soya consumption can reduce both colon and rectal cancer. And according to The Journal of the American Medical Association, a vegetarian diet can prevent 97 percent of coronary occlusions.

But vegetarian diets have also been shown to increase the risk for nutrient deficiencies. Children are particularly vulnerable and can lead to growth problems. Vegetarian children often fail to grow as well as their omnivorous counterparts. Adults who choose to become vegetarian at a mature age are less susceptible to the health downfalls of the diet. But young children who are raised in a vegetarian household are lacking serious nutrients necessary for proper growth. Vegetarians who eat no animal flesh or dairy products risk vitamin B12 deficiency, which can result in irreversible nerve deterioration. The need for vitamin B12 increases during pregnancy, breast-feeding, and the period of adolescence growth. Vegetarians with high nutrient needs, such as athletes and pregnant women, especially need these lacked vitamins. And not receiving all of these vitamins can be detrimental to one’s health. Also, ovo-vegetarians, who eat eggs but no dairy foods or animal flesh, may have inadequate vitamin D and calcium. Inadequate vitamin D may cause rickets in children, while inadequate calcium can contribute to risk of osteoporosis in later years. These vegetarians are susceptible to iron deficiency anemia because they are only missing the more readily absorbed iron from animal flesh. A vegetarian diet needs to be looked at with extreme scrutiny, as not to endanger one’s health.

Ecological arguments against omnivorous and carnivorous eating habits, are little more than an attempt by those from the less popular “animal rights” movement to ride the coattails of the more popular environmental movement. In some cases, warnings of impending environmental cataclysm are used to advance an ethical agenda. However, arguments to the effect that eating meat is destroying the planet overlook that the planet has not yet been destroyed despite millions of years of omnivorous and carnivorous eating by millions of individuals from a multitude of species. Carnivores make up the majority of the food chain, both human and animal. The Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates that some energy will be inevitably lost as one moves up the food web. Therefore, arguments about how it takes ‘X’ pounds of plant protein to generate ‘Y’ pounds of meat have a sound theoretical basis. However, these arguments are often overstated. These arguments falsely assume that pork chops and steak are the only products of animal agriculture. They falsely presume that a pound of animal foodstuffs is nutritionally and energetically equivalent to a pound of plant foodstuffs. These arguments also ignore the energy content and opportunity cost of replacing animal by-products, which is considerable. Even the animal’s excrement is a valuable resource. Certain animal products, such as fetal calf serum, collagen and laminin are crucial for medical research using cell cultures, and have no available alternatives. Is saving a cow worth letting a human die? One can say “yes”, but what if he were the human that was ill? And if certain practices associated with animal agriculture are found to be ecologically unsound, it does not merit a general opposition to eating meat. Though not practical for everyone, hunting and fishing bypass any potential ecological destruction associated with plant or animal agriculture. They are thus two of the most ecologically sound ways to obtain one’s sustenance. Those who would oppose even limited exploitation of these alternatives have ethical concerns masquerading as environmental concerns. The most disingenuous ecological ploy made by “ethical” vegetarians is the “…we could feed X starving people with Y percent of the resources devoted to animal agriculture…” argument. First, it falsely implies that humans are starving because of insufficient production capacity. World hunger is a result of deficient distribution of food, not deficient capacity for production of food. Our capacity to produce grain is so vast that we actually pay farmers not to produce. Secondly, if the argument were valid, the resultant increase in human population would worsen rather than remedy ecological concerns regarding human population.

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Though vegetarianism does offer clear health benefits, such as the diet has been known to commonly cure coronary heart disease (coupled with medication), one need not become vegetarian in order to be healthy. Diet is only one important aspect of health. The avoidance of harmful habits such as smoking is as important, if not more so. A vegetarian diet is not necessarily always healthier than a diet consisting of meat. A very strict and regimented vegetarian diet is needed to acquire all essential nutrients for living well. Meat does carry proteins and nutrients very helpful to a healthy diet. If eaten in moderation, the fats and cholesterols in meat can have minimal bad effects on the body. Eating meat is not always sucking down a greasy cheeseburger. A balanced diet’s definition does include meat. If diet is looked at with honest concern and responsibility, a diet including meat can be as healthy as a vegetarian diet.

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